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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Impact of Water Use by Utility-Scale Solar on Groundwater Resources of the Chuckwalla Basin, CA: Final Modeling Report


The DOE and BLM identified 285,000 acres of desert land in the Chuckwalla valley in the western U.S., for solar energy development. In addition to several approved solar projects, a pumped storage project was recently proposed to pump nearly 8000 acre-ft-yr of groundwater to store and stabilize solar energy output. This study aims at providing estimates of the amount of naturally-occurring recharge, and to estimate the impact of the pumping on the water table. To better provide the locations and intensity of natural recharge, this study employs an integrated, physically-based hydrologic model, PAWS+CLM, to calculate recharge. Then, the simulated recharge is used in a parameter estimation package to calibrate spatially-distributed K field. This design is to incorporate all available observational data, including soil moisture monitoring stations, groundwater head, and estimates of groundwater conductivity, to constrain the modeling. To address the uncertainty of the soil parameters, an ensemble of simulations are conducted, and the resulting recharges are either rejected or accepted based on calibrated groundwater head and local variation of the K field. The results indicate that the natural total inflow to the study domain is between 7107 and 12,772 afy. During the initial-fill phase of pumped storage project, the total outflow exceeds the upper bound estimate of the inflow. If the initial-fill is annualized to 20 years, the average pumping is more than the lower bound of inflows. The results indicate after adding the pumped storage project, the system will nearing, if not exceeding, its maximum renewable pumping capacity. The accepted recharges lead to a drawdown range of 24 to 45 ft for an assumed specific yield of 0.05. However, the drawdown is sensitive to this parameter, whereas there is insufficient data to adequately constrain this parameter.

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